Weekend Preview: Last Chance To Shine!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars have two final chances to put some form together ahead of the playoffs as the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 regular season draws to a close this weekend with games against old rivals.
Tomorrow afternoon the Stars visit Blackburn Hawks for the first encounter between the sides in Lancashire since November. Sitting just a place above Billingham, the Hawks have had a disappointing season by their own recent high standards. Although they have been able to demonstrate their ability to compete with the ‘big’ clubs in the reformatted National League, ultimately inconsistency has cost Blackburn a higher League placing. Seventh place is not definite – two wins this weekend coupled with two defeats for sixth-placed Whitley Warriors would see the Hawks leapfrog the Tynesiders – but either placing will see them face one of the former English Premier League outfits in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.
The Stars regular season ends on Sunday evening with a derby game against Whitley Warriors at the Forum. Billingham will be looking to avenge last weekend’s 5-0 mauling in the reverse fixture at Hillheads, and the overall score between the two sides for the season does not make for pretty reading for the Teessiders either, the Warriors having won all three previous encounters. Whitley take on The Dragons in North Wales tomorrow evening, given the Welsh outfit’s dismal run of results this season a win looks likely to guarantee the Warriors sixth place and a match-up with Telford Tigers in the playoffs next weekend.
Billingham must restore pride and confidence after putting in one of their most disappointing performances in a derby game for many years last Sunday, only youngster Ethan Hehir providing any positives as the Stars rolled over on Tyneside. They will need to be firing on all cylinders if they are to challenge in the playoffs, their eighth place finish meaning it will be the League champions they face. A two-horse race between Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs, Billingham will be aware that they have taken just one point from eight games against these two clubs during the regular season. The Stars want their players to have plenty of ice ahead of next weekend’s playoff series so will resist the temptation to rest any of the squad and will roll with the best side they can for both games. Ben Davison and Andy Finn are unavailable for tomorrow afternoon’s trip, whilst a decision needs to be taken on where Under 18s Hehir and James Hellens play as their junior side has a home game against Coventry tomorrow evening. With Darren Stattersfield still suspended, the blue line could be short tomorrow.
Billingham’s Director of Coaching Terry Ward wants to see a huge reaction from his players after last Sunday’s horror show:
“Last Sunday was embarrassing for everyone, but we have to put it behind us and make sure we get ourselves in the best frame of mind ahead of the playoffs. Blackburn is always a tricky place to visit, but we got the result last time we played there and we’ll be looking for the same again. The derby game on Sunday is the perfect opportunity to show what we are capable of and finally get one over the Warriors – we must have a winning mentality against the champions next weekend, whoever they may be.”
The final weekend of the regular season in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 sees Billingham travel to Blackburn Hawks tomorrow afternoon (face off 5.45pm), followed by the final North East derby game as the Stars host Whitley Warriors at the Forum on Sunday evening (face off 6.30pm). Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 5.45pm
The Dragons v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 5.45pm
Solway Sharks v Telford Tigers, Saturday 7pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7.30pm
Hull Pirates v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 6pm
Telford Tigers v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 6.30pm
Images courtesy of Colin Lawson, IceHockeyMedia except where stated.